Don’t pivot your event to virtual – design it!

The recent months’ change in our universe has apparently had an impact on what is considered ‘normal’ behavior that I feel the need to scold a bit in this blog post – but don’t worry: I will not touch on wearing face masks, hugging or appropriate numbers for gatherings. No, this blog post is a verbal slap on the wrist from me to the industry of business events in general. Sorry guys, but here goes!

Virtual is the new normal

During the Corona situation most everybody has felt the need to engage in creating virtual events – be it within meetings and events, personal training and development, cooking, DIY, pet grooming or anything else between the Sun and the stars. Kudos to anybody who didn’t run scared because of the virus but actually pivoted in the blink of an eye! That was what we needed back in March and April to not fall into depression about the state of our planet.

But – and here is the focal point of this article – pivoting is not the magic wand anymore! As William Thomson from Gallus Events put it: “Pivoting is so Q2”. I simply love that quote! And it is time to step up and realize that what worked in March and April of this year will not continue to work. Today is a whole new ball game and we have to dust off the skills and knowledge we used to design events before Corona.

Point in question: I completely understand – and strongly encourage – that every company, organization, university (any Peter, Paul and Mary) want to have virtual events. It is due diligence in this day and age, and virtual events are (still) here to stay. But who changed the basic premises of having an event from back when we could still meet in person till we all meet online? Premises like engaging the audience, caring about the invitation and focusing on the objective?

I lost count of how many events I was invited to only a few days in advance. I want to say hundreds, and I must admit that I simply don’t understand this. Maybe most of us had a bit more time on our hands back in March: We were not going to work, we couldn’t go to the gym or out with friends and Netflix eventually ran out of programs of interest to each of us. But now (actually since May) we are all working again, even if it is from home, and have found a new routine, and there is plenty of entertainment and edutainment out there for us to dive into. And I still receive invitations for events within 3-7 days.

Back in the old days (ie. February ;o)) when we planned and designed ‘real’ events at interesting venues with ‘real’ people, it took upwards from 6 weeks to get any attendees to come, so how come all these nice people who invite me to really interesting events think it is realistic to invite me 3-7 days in advance? 

Pivoting is so Q2. William Thomson, Gallus Events

Same job, different tasks

I have been asked many times during the last few months about my view on virtual events, and though I am convinced they cannot replace in person events, since you don’t get that chemistry and feeling for the people around you, I always stress that it takes the same amount of work to design a virtual event as it does for an offline. Some of the tasks might be different, but there are just as many and they are just as important.

Take the invitation process which I mentioned before: When thinking in experience design, the communication about the event is one of the five experience elements, which are elements you need in order to create an experience.

The communication about the event is where you convince me to sign up, participate and share the invite with my peers. This is where you set expectations and build anticipation … make me NOT want to miss it for the World (who said FOMO!). And if you want to create an experience, I need more than 3 days to absorb and immerse myself in the event. I need continuous communication about the event (which of course also goes for events that are 6 months into the future!) and little snippets of information about what will be happening.

Another experience element is participant involvement which can be a somewhat difficult task for online events, but no matter what it is equally important. Most of these events that I get invited to only a few days in advance are usually in a webinar/one-way communication-format with none or very little engagement during the event. That was somewhat OK back in March, but it is not OK anymore. Your participants want to be involved and engaged in your event. “Zoom fatigue” is a real thing, and we will see much more of it if we as an industry don’t up our game and start designing real experience for the online events, too.

People want experiences

So, to sum up it takes a lot of work, design and planning to create a fantastic virtual event with all the trimmings, but we need to do this work, or we will be put in the back of the line for the attention of our attendees. People want experiences and we are here to provide them – but not within the week.

And if you or your company want to join the virtual event supplier market, I say “Go for it!”. But if you don’t know how to plan and design such an event, please reach out to somebody who can help you get right on track from the beginning to make sure it becomes a success.

By the way: I promise, scolding will not become the norm on this blog from here on out. This time I just felt the need to do so.

And now it’s back to Sun, Summer, Glitter, Rainbows and Unicorns :o)